London’s secret wine club

I have been wine tasting too many times for someone who persists in knowing nothing about wine.

But I do know this.  A dry crisp white with a good friend can take you far away from November in London.  To tasting the first of summer or filling up crystal glasses on Christmas Eve.

Take someone wine tasting and you get a proper conversation. So going with a great friend was the perfect gift.

We went to Bedales in Borough Market. It’s one of those cozy, special places – lit up with candles and small wooden tables  – made for rescuing people from dark winter nights.

Bedales wine bar

Casual but classy, our expert host – Angelo van Dyk – was very knowledgeable and took a small, intimate group of us through a combination of unusual wines in a session called ‘The Lost Grapes’.

We tasted:

And the last one? By that point I can’t remember or read my writing, which says it all

If anyone goes…please find out and tell me!

x

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18 ways to survive autumn in London

Summer is ending. Raspberries are out of season and the nights and the spiders are drawing in.

OH WELL. I’ve already moved on to my new boyfriend – Autumn – season of opaque tights, stained red wine lips and double helpings of carbs.

London by David Holt

You do need a survival plan for this time of year in London though – or it gets depressing, in a ‘being soaked by a massive bus splash and then questioning the meaning of life’ kind of way – so here is my list of 18 things I plan to do in London in Autumn to *BASICALLY STAY SANE*. (Please note I make no apology that 80% of these things involve eating).

  1. Dinner at The Dairy in Clapham – supposed to be an incredible restaurant – and autumn is the  time to eat in incredible restaurants so you can order desert with custard with the excuse we need the ‘nutritional value/warmth to SURVIVE THE WEATHER’
  2.  Noodles at the newly reopened Pepper Tree in Clapham –  my secret restaurant when I lived in Clapham. Except everyone loved it too. I had a minor stroke when I thought it had closed down. But they were just renovating it. PAD THAI I’M COMING BACK FOR YOU.
  3. See Gone Girl at the cinema – remember the cinema? I know I haven’t been for months either. Gone Girl is blatantly going to be  insane.
  4. Buy a leather jacket and maybe a big tartan scarf and definitely also an aggressive new eyeliner – October needs confronting with a strong look
  5. Make a vat of chicken casserole and eat it whilst watching Homeland and Downton Abbey – Lady Mary and Carrie Mathison are survivors and inspirations
  6. An autumn walk to pick sloe berries and make sloe gin – sounds idyllic, probably will descend into stealing berries from bushes outside people’s houses in SW London and making some kind of weird poison but I DON’T CARE I WANT TO DO IT
  7. See the Constable exhibition at the V&A – because I’m embarrassed I’ve been living in London for 8 years and never been to the V&A
  8. Book to go to Harry Potter Land and see the snow scene – I make no excuses
  9. Plant spring flowers – I’m thinking bluebells? Keep meaning to get down to Battersea Flower Station for some ideas
  10. See Live at the Apollo – tickets aren’t for general sale but you can apply and potentially go for free *how amazing is that*
  11. Plan a firework party/trip to Battersea Park or Ally Pally – honestly one of the best things about living in London in November, love the feeling of layering up for some communal pyrotechnics
  12. Make a roast dinner for friends. With cauliflower cheese as a focal ingredient…Oh and crumble
  13. Brixton Vilage for dinner – because I haven’t been for months and I’m getting withdrawal
  14. Shopping at Bicester Village which is definitely a bad idea but so what…
  15. A night at The Dogs at Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium – I mean it sounds kind of scary, but also I DO own a sheepskin coat
  16. Drink beer/tour at a London brewery – like Meantime in Greenwich or By the Horns in Earlsfield (see the nice write up on ‘Go Earlsfield‘).
  17. Curry in Tooting Broadway – the South West Brick Lane
  18. Book a winter holiday – I mean…all of this is great, but I’m not Jesus – there is only so long you can go without summer

The photograph in this post is London October 13 2013 015 Conkers Clissold Park Hackney by David Holt.

Five favourite things about Bellevue Village

I first stumbled upon the Bellevue Village Fair in 2012 and I’ve been going back ever since.

Its a funny place, this road. Despite being cornered by gridlocked city traffic, it has an ‘out of London’ feeling.

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Village life in the big city

The fair is just one of my favourite things – mostly because you can pretend you are in the Cotswolds for the day, buying local beer (from the exciting Belleville Brewery), and everything from art and jewelry to flowers (I was *thrilled* to see the Battersea Flower Station, as have always wanted to visit). It goes without saying that the fair attracts a very well-heeled crowd which makes for great people watching – lots of beautiful parents, with beautiful kids and immaculately groomed dogs (there was a dogs show this time) – I was half expecting David Cameron to show up.

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The food is always a particular highlight – I stuck my face in an amazing hot dog and eyed up about 572 cakes before settling on a chocolate, orange and almond number from Dee Light Bakery. I also bought some marmalade from an incredible woman wearing an apron calling her a ‘Jam Tart’.

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The Bellevue Village Fair sadly only happens twice a year (the next one should be  Christmas *fingers crossed*) but they best things about Bellevue road are here all year round:

  1. The Althorp – amazing local gastropub looking out on the Common. Plays live music. Does a lush chicken burger.
  2. Jo Partridge – lovely hairdressers with the best shellac deal known to man – £35 for a manipedi – WTF?! They did my hair for the first time and for once it looks nice.
  3. The Good Earth – amazing Chinese restaurant. So good I wrote a blog about it.
  4. The Hope – another great pub (there’s a theme here). Iconic corner pub. The place to be on summer nights.
  5. Wandsworth Common – way classier than Clapham Common (i.e.s not full of gangs of 23year olds drinking cans and applying tanning oil like its Benidorm beach)
Dogs on wandsworth common

This year there was the first dog show on the Common at the village fair

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Oliver – the gallery – always does creative games for kids that I have genuinely joined in with

Five Nights in Marbs

Maybe its the direct flight from Manchester airport, or maybe it runs deeper than that, but when you are from the North West of England there are two summer holiday destinations that particularly call out – *The Algarve* and *Marbs*. This year, to keep with the cliche, I have been to both….

The Costa de Sol can get a bad rep – some of it is thoroughly well deserved – but there is more to this part of the world than TOWIE and Torremolinos.

Puerto Banus harbour

From a distance, Puerto Banus looks quite classy

For me Marbs has some key ingredients for a great European summer holiday that can’t be underestimated:

1. Sunshine – basically guaranteed sunshine. 30 degrees on a tap. Walking on the beach has never burned my feat so much

2. Food –  the gastro mountain village of Benahavis is brimming with quirky restaurants and art. One of the best I visited was Amanhavis – (because er…they make their own houmous and even print your name on the menu!)

3. Sea – I love a coastline and the sea is just gorgeous – whether you are into banana boating or catamaran cruises.

4. Straightforward – short hop flight, safe (unless you’re on the lash with 25 cocktail fish bowls and then you’re on your own) and you can even get a British newspaper to read on the beach

Singing Spanish men in traditional costume

Singing Spaniards in Benahavis

Solo boat from Puerto Banus to Marbella

A boat to ourselves

We stayed at the Marriot Vacation Club (you don’t have to be a member)- where there was loads to do, including loads of pools, a great gym and a short walk out to the beach where you could get a massage for 15 euros – BLISS.

Which festival is better – Latitude or Wilderness?

You haven’t been to a festival until you’ve been to a festival with a severe weather warning. And this summer I went to two.

Latitude had blistering heat followed by nightly electric storms; while Hurricane Bertha woke me up at Wilderness at 5am and we evacuated four hours later.

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I’d imagined these festivals to be too luxe to be ‘real’. I don’t know what I expected – some super on-it event organiser with a headset sprinkling the ground with mud-resistant fairy dust, or that everyone would be too posh to shit in the loos.

Despite the crashing reality that a festival once attended by Sam Cam didn’t magic me into a self-cleaning Glasto-esque Cressida Bona,  both were great fun and its hard to call which was better. But if I had to rank them…

Music – Latitude – Lily Allen beat my expectations and I danced to Damon Albarn in a rain storm so intense a passing stranger thought I was on speed. I also discovered George Ezra and got a little crush on him.

Food – Wilderness, obvs – we had a banquet table at Angella Hartnett’s lunch –  five courses of her favourite Italian family food in a room that looked just magical, with the added excitement of Angela bobbing around saying hi. And other restaurants included a Hix tent and a J Sheekey fish and chip van- so it was basically Soho in a field in a really good way.

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Angela’s Boozy peaches and amaretto cream. If I could recreate this I think I could handle anything in life.

Arts – Latitude – (but only because I mainly boozed at Wilderness). I discovered Josie Long who I am now obsessed with – what a FUNNY woman -and surprised myself by enjoying the poetry tent – it might have been to do with the hot poet Raymond Antrobus whose nostalgic poems about his Nan – set to MUSIC – made me well up. I loved Peter Hayhoe too.

Booze – Wilderness – had actual bars where you could dance and a disco in the forest. But Latitude also had a piano bar in the woods which attracted kids that looked like fairies.

Camping – Latitude –  let’s be honest campsites for 10,000 always have the sense of the worst ever long haul flight – all sleepy haired, strangers sweating and spitting out toothpaste. Latitude’s campsite was best, as it had lots of space to camp (and even cartwheel). But Wilderness was surprisingly overcrowded – some friends were forced to pitch up at the side of the tracks next to the loos. But there WAS a breakfast club brunch van right opposite. Its the only time I’ve managed to get my hands on one of their sausage baps. Score.

Lake – Wilderness – both unquestionably beautiful lakes, but Wilderness had a Lakeside spa and I go to go and sit in a toasty barrel of heated water whilst it rained, sipping champagne. OH MEMORIES.

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Spot Angella


People – DRAW – Everyone was nice, didn’t get any trouble. Latitude had the highest concentration of Guardian readers – it was like a freaking Birkenstock convention – while Wilderness had a funny mix of pissed posh folk and pagans. Both festivals had way too many kids in my opinion. Far be it for me to judge parents, but waking up to the sound of children wailing as the storm hit made me want to join in and steal their calpol.

So would I do either festival again? Probably not. What tolerance I had left for camping died this summer. Plus all of the red bull I drank to survive gave me a week long skin disorder and an eye twitch. But that said, never say never. I’ve never been to Glastonbury and I am due a mid-life crisis.

The best Chinese take-away in Wandsworth

Lately I’ve been exemplifying the kind of emotionally dependent relationship with my local Chinese restaurant that Sandra Bullock embodies at the start of ‘Two Weeks Notice‘.

Can I have a bite of your number 6 please Sandie?

I know things need to change. They know things need to change. But neither of us wants to stop.

So it goes on that I, exhausted at the end of the week, make the call and get them to hit me up with a Singapore chicken noodles,  beef in black bean sauce and an egg fried rice.

Yes I know that is two types of carbs and a really bad idea. Yes I know that Sandra is way thinner than me. Yes I also know that the amazing health benefits of Asian food are only really seen on a diet of sushi, tofu and miso soup, not white rice flash fried in oil. But can the world please stop judging me and take a mouthful of the black bean beef?!

I love The Good Earth, not just because the food is excellent, but because it provides the kind of singular comfort that nothing other than a bear hug with an elderly relative can deliver.

It is also well posh (its roots are in Kensington). You can have a takeaway at home and feel really swank over skank.

They have a really fancy restaurant that has gold padded walls, very efficient waiting staff and silent, automatic doors everywhere that lead to secret rooms. Plus they look after you with hot hand towels and after dinner mints.

Image of a clay pot being revealed

The big reveal

Here I am getting the fillet steak clay pot. That is the super attention-seeking meal they cook at your table and everyone in the restaurant gets jealous (see man in white shirt with the hilarious hungry eyes).

Image of fillet steak clay pot at the good earth

Divine

Chocolate mints in orange foil

Chocolate mints. Imported from the eighties. The very best way to end a good meal.

The Good Earth has selected restaurants across London, including a restaurant in Wandsworth Common and takeaway stations in Battersea and Wimbledon.

Lyles – the loveliest new London restaurant

I’m a fussy eater. I eat like a child. I leave my crusts and make a mess. If I am left alone at the weekends I often eat chocolate for breakfast and chicken nuggets and tinned sweetcorn for lunch. Over the years I have admitted to too many people that my hypothetical ‘death row’ meal choice would be a McDonalds happy meal.

But after a good experience at the new London restaurant Lyle’s this week, run by two chefs James Lowe and John Ogier who are causing a bit of a ‘stir’ on the ‘London scene’ maybe there is hope for me yet.

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When my sophisticated friends book ‘foodie’ restaurants I am always nervous. Especially when they are in Shoreditch. I find many London restaurants intimidating – with menus in continental languages I don’t understand and strange ingredients and complicated culinary terms I don’t recognise.

While Lyles had one of those scary menus – with the added fear-factor of a ‘get what you are given’  daily set menu –  I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely delighted by what I found.

A good part of the reason was that it had all the lovely touches of nice restaurants. Lots of surprising, complimentary house specialties to taste between course, so it feels like good value. And each course is brought to you by a different member of the kitchen or front of house team and they talk through the food with a lot of knowledge that underlines the quality and freshness of the ingredients, sourced from across the UK. (The chefs are also quite fit and have that very attractive, ‘country/urban’, ‘I could kill an animal, but would always treat it well’ earthy quality going on).

To start with we had something I didn’t even know existed – samphire – a sea vegetable. I think it must be that stringy stuff that can creep you out when you swim. Apparently they sell it in Waitrose and this stuff was AMAZING. So fresh, salty and lathered in butter. (I see in my future a disappointing attempt to recreate this at home on a Sunday evening).

Then there was the first course ‘peas and Ticklemore’.  Fresh peas, herbs, lovely Ticklemore cheese and edible flowers.

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I try not to take too many pictures of my food as I find it a very wanky habit- but this was just too PRETTY

Then there was smoked salmon, but I had asparagus and walnut butter (I opted for the vegetarian menu as I have a deep aversion to eating fish unless it comes out of a newspaper). The walnut butter was so yummy – except awkward moment when I had finished the asparagus, but not the butter, and wasn’t sure if would be considered ‘gauche’ to shovel the remaining butter in my mouth with a fork.

There were lots of lovely courses after that – I wasn’t sure how I was going to find the ‘mutton’ soup, but it was scrummy. The main course was my least favourite – but only because I was embarrassed to tell the restaurant that I don’t each mushrooms too (I can’t get past them being wood goblins). So I didn’t eat a lot of my puffball mushrooms, although friends who I gifted it to said it was extraordinary. I did, however, very much love the duck egg that came with that dish.

Character building moment was when a sample of ‘blood cake’ came – which I think is posh black pudding – and I was literally corralled into eating it by my friends who I thought might start chanting ‘eat it, eat it’ like we were on a rugby tour. It wasn’t that bad – not exactly the sausage taste my friends said it had and a very grainy aftertaste that disturbed me. (Iknow, I know, sausage is probably WORSE but I have very double standards when it comes to offal).

So overall – go to Lyles – really special experience for all the reasons above, but especially because I was with friends I hadn’t seen for months, so it was particularly good fun. Even if one of my friends did end the night saying he wasn’t sure about ‘the deconstructed cooking trend’. Which terrified me into wondering… “When did we all become such ADULTS? Maybe I am really too old for Happy Meals now….”